Seattle travel planning startup Utrip will shut down after critical deal falls through

Seattle travel planning startup Utrip will shut down after critical deal falls through

4:57pm, 7th May, 2019
Utrip CEO Gilad Berenstein accepts the award for Young Entrepreneur of the Year at the 2015 GeekWire Awards. (GeekWire Photo) journey is over. The Seattle-based trip-planning startup is ceasing operations after a deal that would’ve kept the company afloat fell through at the last minute. “We are devastated to no longer be able to continue to operate and partner with you,” Utrip CEO said in an email to clients obtained by GeekWire. Bernstein declined to comment further when contacted by GeekWire. Utrip’s services will remain online until June 7, at which point the servers will come down, according to the email. Founded in 2011, the company offered free itinerary-planning tools to consumers built with machine learning. Users entered information about the types of activities they like to do when traveling and related preferences. Utrip would then produce a schedule and other information to help them plan their trips. Utrip made money by and building products for businesses in the hospitality space, such as hotels and cruise lines. In 2017, to create a trip-planning portal stitching together flights, hotels, must-see sites, activities, and restaurants. Other “strategic partners” included Hilton, Holland America Line, Allegiant, and Starwood Preferred Guest. “Leveraging machine learning and advanced traveler preference data, Utrip enables travel companies, both large and small, to increase conversion rates, ancillary revenue, customer loyalty and engagement,” the company wrote on its . Utrip’s itinerary service. Utrip also had some high-profile investors. Executives from Apple and Costco, as well as Acorn Ventures, Plug and Play, and Tiempo Capital, participated in in early 2017. Seattle hotelier Craig Schafer was also an investor and former sat on Utrip’s board of directors. The company has 27 employees, according to . It was ranked No. 194 on the , our index of top Pacific Northwest startups. “We are so grateful for your partnerships over the years and for enabling us to help millions of travelers see the world in unique and personal ways,” Berenstein said in his email. The CEO graduated from the University of Washington in 2009 and at the 2015 GeekWire Awards. He helped launch Utrip after a trip to Europe left him wanting a more personalized travel experience without paying a travel agent or spending a lot of time to research. Other Utrip founders include and Yair Berenstein. Travel startups have taken off over the past five years, with a bevy of competitors such as Noken and Journy offering similar services to Utrip. Over that period, travel companies raised more than $1 billion in venture capital funding,
‘Jody’s in charge now’: Paul Allen’s sister credited for role in Russell Wilson’s huge Seahawks deal

‘Jody’s in charge now’: Paul Allen’s sister credited for role in Russell Wilson’s huge Seahawks deal

5:24pm, 17th April, 2019
Russell Wilson discusses his new Seattle Seahawks deal on Wednesday. (Seahawks image via Facebook) Russell Wilson took time away from counting his newfound riches on Wednesday to thank the Seattle Seahawks for making him the highest paid player in the NFL and to reiterate his commitment to bringing championships to the city where he plans to end his career. Along the way, the star quarterback and the team’s general manager, John Schneider, invoked the name of Seahawks owner Jody Allen and her late brother, Paul Allen. Seahawks fans waited into the wee hours of Monday night for a deal to happen before a deadline, imposed by Wilson, passed. He and the team ultimately agreed to a worth a . In the news conference Wednesday, streamed by the Seahawks (below), Wilson said that the idea of a no-trade clause — exhibiting that he really wanted to be in Seattle — is what sealed the deal. And he and Schneider credited Jody Allen, among others, for making that happen. “We want him to be here for life,” Schneider said when asked about the clause. “It’s something that I needed to discuss with Jody … it’s part of a negotiation.” Hear from QB1 about his contract extension
Show me the money: Vote for the top venture capital Deal of the Year at the GeekWire Awards

Show me the money: Vote for the top venture capital Deal of the Year at the GeekWire Awards

10:26am, 9th April, 2019
Icertis CEO Samir Bodas and his team accept the award for Deal of the Year at the 2018 GeekWire Awards. (GeekWire Photo / Kevin Lisota) Show me the money! Venture capital investment in Washington state last year reached the highest level since 2000, , according to a report from PwC and CB Insights. This year’s GeekWire Deal of the Year nominees for top venture capital investment accounted for nearly a fifth of that sum. We’ve opened voting in 11 categories, and community votes will be factored in with feedback from our more than 30 judges (see ). On May 2 we will announce the winners live on stage at the GeekWire Awards — presented by — in front of more than 800 geeks at the Museum of Pop Culture in Seattle. Community voting ends April 19. This year’s nominees for VC-related Deal of the Year — Vicis, 98point6, Convoy, JetClosing and Zipwhip — are using technology to solve large scale problems. From protecting the health of football players to organizing the nation’s fragmented trucking industry, they’re looking to make national changes from their Pacific Northwest headquarters. , Icertis, landed a $50 million round to help the startup become the Salesforce of contract management. Icertis has since built out its leadership team, adding and . Read about on the finalists and vote on all the categories while you’re here. And don’t forget to , as the GeekWire Awards sell out every year. Vicis CEO Dave Marver. (Vicis Photo) After a Super Bowl-winning quarterback leads your investment round, where do you go from there? closed a in November, bringing the company’s total funding raised to $84 million since spinning out of the University of Washington in 2014. Aaron Rodgers invested in Vicis through Rx3 Ventures. Vicis makes high-tech helmets for NFL and youth players alike. The secret is its flexible design, which aims to prevent concussions in the high-impact game of football. “We invested in VICIS because its commitment to player safety – specifically at the youth level – is one we wanted to support,” Rodgers said in a statement at the time. Convoy co-founder Grant Goodale accepts the award for Next Tech Titan at the 2018 GeekWire Awards. (GeekWire Photo / Kevin Lisota) Talk about fuel in the tank: ‘s in September propelled the trucking startup to unicorn status with a valuation that topped $1 billion. The round was led by the late-stage venture capital arm of Google parent Alphabet, . It was the fourth-largest funding round ever for a Washington-based company, according to data from PitchBook. Convoy connects thousands of drivers and shippers together on a single platform. “We have a big vision and we’re in an ideal position to go after it and see it through,” Convoy co-founder and CEO Dan Lewis said when the funding round was announced. Convoy won the Next Tech Titan honor at the GeekWire Awards and also won Startup of the Year. 98point6 co-founder and CEO Robbie Cape. (98point6 Photo) Virtual primary care startup looked like a healthy investment to Goldman Sachs, which in the company this past October. The fresh cash brought the company’s total amount raised to $86.3 million in just over three years. 98point6 CEO Robbie Cape has said the startup is “focused on solving the primary care crisis in America.” The company makes the most of a doctor’s most precious resource by using technology such as to reduce the time a physician needs to spend with each patient. The JetClosing team. (JetClosing Photo) is revamping the outdated home closing process by getting rid of the paperwork and bringing the process to the cloud. The startup last summer, landing a $20 million Series A round last summer with investments from T. Rowe Price as well as PSL Ventures, Imagen Capital Partners, Trilogy Equity Partners and Maveron. The startup was founded in 2016 after spinning out of Pioneer Square Labs in Seattle. The Zipwhip team. (Zipwhip Photo) The next time a company sends you an emoji, it could be because of . The Seattle startup is helping companies communicate with their customers over text messages, and it earlier this year in a deal that brought its total funding to $92.5 million. The Series D round was led by Goldman Sachs Private Capital Investing group, with participation from existing investors including OpenView, M12, and Voyager Capital. The company is more than a decade old, but it never wavered from its faith in SMS. “We always believed text messaging would be the future,” Zipwhip CEO John Lauer said at the time of the fundraising. Zipwhip last month a new space in Seattle with room for 500 people. Join us at the 2019 GeekWire Awards on May 2!
Backed by top VC firms, Seattle cloud video startup Make.TV inks another key live streaming deal

Backed by top VC firms, Seattle cloud video startup Make.TV inks another key live streaming deal

7:58pm, 8th April, 2019
Make.TV CEO Andreas Jacobi. (Make.TV Photos) continues to bolster its live streaming resume. The Seattle-based startup has expanded its partnership with , the world’s largest esports organization that runs competitions across the world and produces more than 1,500 hours of content annually. Later this month, Make.TV will stream action from the ESL One Mumbai, India’s first-ever major Dota 2 tournament with a $300,000 top prize. Founded in 2016, Make.TV helps customers such as MLBAM, NBC Universal, Al Jazeera, Viacom, Fox Sports Brasil, and others stream live video content in the cloud. The 42-person company, which relocated from Germany to Seattle two years ago, is backed by some of the top investment firms in the Pacific Northwest including Microsoft’s M12, Vulcan Capital, and Voyager Capital, which a $8.5 million Series A round in June 2017. Bruce Chizen, the former CEO of Adobe, is on the company’s board. Make.TV’s technology acts like a video router of sorts, allowing companies to take live video from a variety of sources and deliver it to any device on any platform, said, the company’s co-founder and CEO. “Simply put, we empower content creators to share their video with production teams working for TV networks, cable companies, esports and sports networks or any other type of video-based media,” he said. “We also simplify the work of the production teams by automating a number of tasks — sifting through lots of data; identifying content libraries to pick a short segment from; routing content to post-production houses, regional broadcasters and social media channels — enabling them to dedicate more time to what they do best: create content we all want to watch.” The company offers a similar service to Portland-based Elemental, which . Other competitors include , , , and smaller startups. Make.TV is ranked No. 165 on the , our index of top Pacific Northwest startups. With more people watching live video online and the growth of platforms such as Twitch, the live streaming industry is to surpass $13 billion this year.
Democratic senators question Juul about its Altria deal

Democratic senators question Juul about its Altria deal

4:18pm, 8th April, 2019
Eleven democratic senators, led by Sen. Dick Durbin (D-IL), have to , asking a series of questions around the product’s marketing, its effectiveness as a tool to help people quit smoking combustible cigarettes, sales figures and, perhaps most importantly, more information on the deal that gave Altria a minority stake in Juul Labs. “The corporate marriage between two companies that have been the most prolific at marketing highly addictive nicotine products to children is alarming from a public health standpoint and demonstrates, yet again, that JUUL is more interested in padding its profit margins than protecting our nation’s children,” writes Sen. Durbin in the letter. Questions in the letter include records around advertising and marketing spend for Juul products, as well as any changes that might have been made to Juul’s Youth Prevention Plan following the deal with Altria. In late 2018, Juul it had sold a 35 percent minority stake of the company to Altria Group, makers of Marlboro cigarettes, for $12.8 billion. The company said that a partnership with Altria would help Juul market and distribute to currently addicted adult cigarette smokers. In the letter, the senators cite the American Heart Association, which called the Altria/Juul deal “a match made in tobacco heaven.” Juul was already in hot water over its product’s popularity among young people, so it’s only expected that a partnership with traditional Big Tobacco would further fuel concerns among critics. More from the letter: JUUL’s decision to team up with Altria, the parent company of Philip Morris USA, is also bad news for children considering that Altria has a long and sordid history of spending billions to entice children to smoke through targeted campaigns that intentionally lied about the science and health effects from cigarettes. And their efforts have clearly paid off. According to the CDC, Altria’s Marlboro cigarette continues to be the most popular cigarette brand among children in the United States, with 48.8 percent of high school smokers preferring Marlboro cigarettes. Further, the proportion of high school smokers who smoked Marlboro cigarettes increased dramatically between 2012 and 2016, by a whopping 27 percent. While JUUL has promised to address youth vaping through its modest voluntary efforts, by accepting $12.8 billion from Altria—a tobacco giant with such a disturbing record of deceptive marketing to hook children onto cigarettes—JUUL has lost what little remaining credibility the company had when it claimed to care about the public health. A Juul Labs spokesperson had this to say in response to the letter: We welcome the opportunity to share information regarding JUUL Labs’ commitment to curbing underage use of our products while fulfilling our mission to eliminate combustible cigarettes, the number one cause of preventable death in our country. We agree that companies such as ours must step up with meaningful measures to limit access and appeal of vapor products to young people. That’s exactly what we’ve done, and we will do more to combat teen use to save the harm-reduction opportunity for the 34 million adult smokers in the United States. Don’t take our word for it — look at our actions. As part of our action plan deployed in November 2018 to keep JUUL products out of the hands of youth, we stopped the sale of certain flavored JUULpods to traditional retail stores, strengthened our retail compliance and secret shopper program, enhanced our online age-verification, exited our Facebook and Instagram accounts and are continuously working to remove inappropriate third-party social media content. We support the FDA’s draft guidance restricting the sale of certain flavored products, including JUULpods, at retail outlets and online, and will continue to work with FDA, Congress, state Attorneys General, local municipalities, and community organizations as a transparent and responsible partner in combating underage use. U.S. Senators Patty Murray (D-WA), Ron Wyden (D-OR), Sherrod Brown (D-OH), Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), Jack Reed (D-RI), Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), Tom Udall (D-NM), Ed Markey (D-MA), Jeff Merkley (D-OR) and Chris Van Hollen (D-MD) joined Sen. Durbin in sending the letter. It comes just a month after the . Juul has until April 25 to provide answers and information in response to the letter.
Tesla’s fortunes spin after SEC accuses CEO Elon Musk of violating a tweet deal

Tesla’s fortunes spin after SEC accuses CEO Elon Musk of violating a tweet deal

3:28pm, 26th February, 2019
Tesla CEO Elon Musk’s Twitter habit has sparked gyrations in the stock market. (Tesla via YouTube) Tesla CEO Elon Musk is in trouble again with the Securities and Exchange Commission, this time over a 13-word tweet. The SEC filed a motion in federal court on Monday, claiming that a tweet that Musk sent out last week violated the terms of an brought last September. After the motion came to light, lost as much as 5 percent of their $298.77 market-close value in after-hours trading. The price crept back to somewhere around its previous level overnight, however, as traders digested the news. It’s the latest in a series of ups and downs (or, more accurately, “downs and ups”) caused by Musk’s Twitter habit. Read the PDF: Under the terms of last year’s agreement, Musk was supposed to have all of his Twitter comments pre-approved by Tesla’s designated representative if they touched upon “information material to the company or its shareholders.” That provision was meant to head off tweets like the one that Musk sent out last August, claiming that he had “funding secured” to take Tesla private even though that wasn’t actually the case. That claim and its aftermath sparked wild gyrations in the market, leading the SEC to open its fraud investigation. The agreement also required Musk to step down from his post as Tesla’s chairman and pay a $20 million fine. Tesla was also fined $20 million, and was forced to appoint two new independent directors to its board. The seeming resolution of the SEC case, plus Tesla’s , sent Tesla’s share price as high as $376. But Musk touched off a new round of regulatory trouble on Feb. 19 when he talked about the production outlook for this year: Tesla made 0 cars in 2011, but will make around 500k in 2019 — Elon Musk (@elonmusk) That claim was amended a little more than four hours later: Meant to say annualized production rate at end of 2019 probably around 500k, ie 10k cars/week. Deliveries for year still estimated to be about 400k. — Elon Musk (@elonmusk) The SEC seized on the initial tweet, and within days investigators were asking Tesla whether the tweet had been pre-approved. In court filings (which Tesla had sought to make confidential), Bradley Bondi, a lawyer for Tesla, acknowledged that the first tweet had not been specifically pre-approved. Instead, it “was intended to recapitulate the information set forth” in forward-looking statements that were made by Tesla and Musk in January, in connection with year-end results. “Mr. Musk believed that the substance had already been appropriately vetted, pre-approved, and publicly disseminated,” Bondi wrote. The substance wasn’t quite the same, though. Back in January, Tesla said it was aiming to hit a , or an annualized rate of roughly 500,000 a year, assuming that no snags arose in its plans for expansion in China. That’s not exactly what Musk said in the first tweet. Bondi said Tesla’s designated tweet-checkers realized that, and so they hammered out the wording of the second tweet as a clarification. Read the PDF: For what it’s worth, on the day after the tweet, Tesla’s general counsel, Dan Butswinkas, after spending only two months on the job. Jonathan Chang, vice president of Tesla’s legal department, took over Butswinkas’ position. The SEC said the fact that Musk didn’t get pre-approval of the wording for the “evidently inaccurate” first tweet was a violation of the agreement. As a result, the SEC is calling on Musk to show cause why he should not be held in contempt of the court’s judgment from last September. “A violation need not be willful in order to find contempt,” the SEC wrote in its motion to U.S. District Court in the Southern District of New York, where the original judgment was filed. The SEC also cited last December as evidence that he wasn’t taking the agreement’s requirements seriously. Back then, Musk acknowledged that none of his tweets had been “censored” since the settlement. “I guess we might make some mistakes,” he told CBS’ Lesley Stahl. “Who knows? … Nobody’s perfect.” Musk went on to say that “I do not respect the SEC … I do not respect them” — but would abide by the settlement “because I respect the justice system.” Now it’s up to the justice system to decide whether to take Musk to task over an ill-turned tweet. U.S. District Judge Alison Nathan gave Musk a March 11 deadline to explain why he shouldn’t be held in contempt. If Nathan rules that the violation is serious enough, Musk could face further limitations on his activity at Tesla … or on Twitter. In a follow-up Twitter exchange, Musk signaled that he intends to stick to his guns: SEC forgot to read Tesla earnings transcript, which clearly states 350k to 500k. How embarrassing …
Tesla’s shares plummet after SEC accuses CEO Elon Musk of violating a tweet deal

Tesla’s shares plummet after SEC accuses CEO Elon Musk of violating a tweet deal

8:53pm, 25th February, 2019
Tesla CEO Elon Musk’s Twitter habit has sparked gyrations in the stock market. (Tesla via YouTube) Tesla CEO Elon Musk is in trouble again with the Securities and Exchange Commission, this time over a 13-word tweet. The SEC filed a motion in federal court today, claiming that a tweet that Musk sent out last week violated the terms of an agreement aimed at settling a securities fraud case brought last September. After today’s motion came to light, Tesla’s share price dropped by more than 4 percent in after-hours trading, from $298.77 at the close to around $288 a couple of hours later. It’s the latest in a series of ups and downs caused by Musk’s Twitter habit. Read the PDF: Under the terms of last year’s agreement, Musk was supposed to have all of his Twitter comments pre-approved by Tesla’s designated representative if they touched upon “information material to the company or its shareholders.” That provision was meant to head off tweets like the one that Musk sent out last August, claiming that he had “funding secured” to take Tesla private even though that wasn’t actually the case. That claim and its aftermath sparked wild gyrations in the market, leading the SEC to open its fraud investigation. The agreement also required Musk to step down from his post as Tesla’s chairman and pay a $20 million fine. Tesla was also fined $20 million, and was forced to appoint two new independent directors to its board. The seeming resolution of the SEC case, plus Tesla’s profit-generating increase in production for its Model 3 electric car, sent Tesla’s share price as high as $376. But Musk touched off a new round of regulatory trouble on Feb. 19 when he talked about the production outlook for this year: Tesla made 0 cars in 2011, but will make around 500k in 2019 — Elon Musk (@elonmusk) That claim was amended a little more than four hours later: Meant to say annualized production rate at end of 2019 probably around 500k, ie 10k cars/week. Deliveries for year still estimated to be about 400k. — Elon Musk (@elonmusk) The SEC seized on the initial tweet, and within days investigators were asking Tesla whether the tweet had been pre-approved. In court filings (which Tesla had sought to make confidential), Bradley Bondi, a lawyer for Tesla, acknowledged that the first tweet had not been specifically pre-approved. Instead, it “was intended to recapitulate the information set forth” in forward-looking statements that were made by Tesla and Musk in January, in connection with year-end results. “Mr. Musk believed that the substance had already been appropriately vetted, pre-approved, and publicly disseminated,” Bondi wrote. The substance wasn’t quite the same, though. Back in January, Tesla said it was aiming to hit a goal of turning out about 10,000 cars a week sometime between the end of 2019 and the middle of 2020. That’s not exactly what Musk said in the first tweet. Tesla’s designated tweet-checkers realized that, and so they hammered out the wording of the second tweet as a clarification, Bondi said. Read the PDF: For what it’s worth, on the day after the tweet, Tesla’s general counsel, Dan Butswinkas, announced that he was leaving the company after spending only two months on the job. Jonathan Chang, vice president of Tesla’s legal department, took over Butswinkas’ position. The SEC said the fact that Musk didn’t get pre-approval of the wording for the “evidently inaccurate” first tweet was a violation of the agreement. As a result, the SEC is calling on Musk to show cause why he should not be held in contempt of the court’s judgment from last September. “A violation need not be willful in order to find contempt,” the SEC wrote in its motion to U.S. District Court in the Southern District of New York, where the original judgment was filed. The SEC also cited an interview with Musk that aired on CBS’ “60 Minutes” TV show last December as evidence that he wasn’t taking the agreement’s requirements seriously. Back then, Musk acknowledged that none of his tweets had been “censored” since the settlement. “I guess we might make some mistakes,” he told CBS’ Lesley Stahl. “Who knows? … Nobody’s perfect.” Musk went on to say that “I do not respect the SEC … I do not respect them” — but would comply with the agreement “because I respect the justice system.” Now it’s up to the justice system to decide whether to take Musk to task over an ill-turned tweet. If the judge in the case thinks the violation is serious enough, Musk could face further limitations on his role at Tesla.
NFL going with Amazon again for ‘Thursday Night Football,’ renews streaming deal for two years

NFL going with Amazon again for ‘Thursday Night Football,’ renews streaming deal for two years

6:15am, 8th May, 2018
Amazon’s first Thursday Night Football stream plays on its website homepage in September. (Screenshot via Amazon) While National Football League teams have made the usual offseason changes aimed at improving their competitive chances next season, the league itself is staying with one big player — Amazon. The NFL announced Thursday that it had reached an agreement to once again partner with Amazon Prime Video for streaming rights to “Thursday Night Football.” The tech giant will stream 11 games (broadcast by FOX) to a global audience during both the 2018 and 2019 seasons. Last season marked the first year of the streaming partnership between the league and Seattle-based Amazon, which took the reigns after Twitter’s one-year shot at the effort. Last year’s deal was for a reported $50 million, and rumblings on Thursday indicated that the NFL may have upped that price as competition from other services such as YouTube and Facebook was strong. Amazon re-ups NFL Thursday night streaming deal for 2018, 2019. Slightly surprising – figured league would want a new partner, and YouTube is very interested in live sports. — Peter Kafka (@pkafka) Looks like same deal as before (though I assume NFL will have extracted some kind of rate increase) – games streamed to Prime members worldwide. One new tweak – will also be available (presumably for free) to Twitch users. — Peter Kafka (@pkafka) Had heard from a few folks over the last few months that YouTube was a strong contender for this deal. Also a little surprised the NFL went back to Amazon. — Kurt Wagner (@KurtWagner8) Surprising in that many thought NFL would continue its digital speed dating after previously working with Amazon and Twitter. Plenty of other potential parties inc YouTube and Facebook. But NFL staying w Amazon for this for next 2 years. — Eric Fisher (@EricFisherSBJ) “Amazon was a tremendous partner for ‘Thursday Night Football’ in 2017 and as we continue our mission of delivering NFL games to fans whether they watch on television or on digital platforms, we are excited to work with them again for the next two seasons,” Brian Rolapp, chief media and business officer for the NFL, said in a news release. PREVIOUSLY: Amazon will deliver to more than 100 million Amazon Prime members worldwide in over 200 countries and territories, on the Prime Video app for TVs, game consoles, and connected devices, which includes Amazon Fire TV, mobile devices and online. Across 10 games last season when on the technology behind the effort, Amazon attracted more than 17 million viewers, or an average of 1.7 million per game. Games will also be available to Twitch viewers, the live-streaming interactive video platform that is a subsidiary of Amazon. Amazon also partners with the NFL for the Prime original series “All or Nothing,” which is produced by NFL Films. The third season of the docuseries will launch on Friday with a closer look at the Dallas Cowboys. Amazon’s first “Thursday Night Football” game of the upcoming season will be during week four when the Los Angeles Rams host the Minnesota Vikings on Sept. 27. Games kick off at 8:20 p.m. ET.